The two years covered here, from July 2013 to June 2015, were a period of transformation for the Commonwealth Secretariat as we worked to translate into practical action our Strategic Plan from 2013/14 to 2016/17. The Plan is a clearly signposted roadmap, following implementation of the most fundamental reforms for a generation, both of the work we do and of the way we do it.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was set up in 1995 to deal with serious or persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s political values.The Group’s mandate was strengthened in 2011 when Heads of Government agreed to reforms that included clearer guidelines and timeframes, and a mandate to enable the Group to engage proactively and positively in areas of concern.
The Secretariat developed new ways of briefing CMAG to ensure that the Group is better informed on developments in member countries where the eight non-exhaustive ‘circumstances’ of concern agreed by Heads of Government might arise. These circumstances include:
The Commonwealth Secretariat strengthened its engagement and assistance to member countries where the Commonwealth’s political values and commitments were deemed to be under particular stress, including in Fiji and Maldives.
The Group, in its role as the custodian of Commonwealth values, welcomed the Secretariat’s technical support for preparations ahead of the September 2014 Parliamentary elections in Fiji, which marked the restoration of civilian constitutional democratic rule. In September 2014, Fiji was reinstated as a full member of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth Secretariat strengthened its capacity for analysis and proactive engagement in support of the Secretary-General’s Good Offices for Peace, providing advice and specialist technical assistance, where sought, to member countries. The Secretary-General worked personally, and through his Good Offices envoys and advisers, to promote adherence to the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values.
The Commonwealth Secretariat delivered capacity-building to conduct national dialogues, reduce tensions and promote harmonious relations between national stakeholders. In March 2014, the Commonwealth Secretariat organised a training course on Commonwealth Mediation and Negotiation Skills for five election management bodies in Durban, South Africa.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Swaziland, the former President of Malawi, Bakili Muluzi, continued to advance practical measures aimed at implementing reforms already reflected in Swaziland’s revised constitution.
The Prime Minister of Lesotho, Pakalitha Mosisili, and the United Nations Development Programme praised the work of Good Offices in Lesotho, where the Secretary-General had deployed an adviser to support coalition governance.
Commonwealth Observation Groups and Expert Teams were deployed to observe:
In 2013, the Office of the Commissioner of Elections of Sri Lanka invited the Commonwealth to send observers to witness landmark elections in the Northern Province. Feedback to members of the Commonwealth Group indicated that the presence and conduct of the observers had contributed significantly to an atmosphere of calm on Election Day, and in the days following. The Group’s recommendation to expand the role of local observers was implemented during the January 2015 Presidential Election, when Commonwealth observers were also present
The Commonwealth Secretariat assisted member countries to develop electoral management institutions and improve the quality, credibility and management of electoral processes.
Kenya strengthened its election management board by making it more inclusive and transparent, improved voter registration and improved the procedure for resolving election disputes.
Maldives acted on recommendations of a Commonwealth Observer Group in 2013, setting up a National Elections Complaints Bureau and designing smaller polling stations to provide voters with greater privacy.
Malawi audited its voter register prior to the 2014 elections. Between the 2009 and 2014 elections, the Malawi Electoral Commission took note of a recommendation from a Commonwealth Observer Group regarding the slow processing of complaints and set up a Complaints Handling Unit. The new unit processed complaints in the 2014 election more quickly and efficiently than in previous elections.
Rwanda created greater choice for voters by establishing the Rwanda Governance Board, which enabled independent candidates and four new parties to stand in the 2013 parliamentary election.
The Commonwealth Electoral Network (CEN), conceived by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and launched in 2010, aspires to a ‘gold standard’ of election management in the Commonwealth. The network promotes good practice in managing elections, facilitates peer-to-peer exchanges of experience and fosters the community of Commonwealth electoral management bodies. The Commonwealth Secretariat continued to support the work of the CEN in developing the capacity of Commonwealth election management bodies to conduct fair, credible and inclusive elections. Commonwealth Connects, the Commonwealth’s online collaboration platform, hosts secure workspaces for members of the CEN to promote peer-to-peer networking and support.
In June 2014, the Secretariat supported the second Commonwealth Electoral Network biennial conference, ‘Managing Elections in the 21st Century: Strengthening Institutional Capacity and Electoral Integrity’, in Nairobi, Kenya. Delegates from 36 of the Commonwealth’s national electoral management boards shared best practices, practical experiences, ideas and technical expertise. Links nurtured and strengthened through the Commonwealth Electoral Network are a powerful and practical illustration of Commonwealth networking as a global good.
Nurturing junior election professionals is key to developing a cadre of highly skilled election administrators committed to Commonwealth political values and principles. In response to a request from members of the CEN, and made possible through the support of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Commonwealth Secretariat launched the Commonwealth Junior Election Professionals Initiative in July 2013.
As a result, a pan-Commonwealth pilot workshop for junior election professionals was held in India in October 2013, co-hosted by the Election Commission of India, and a Commonwealth-Pacific regional workshop in Canberra was organised in partnership with the Australian Electoral Commission, in March 2014.
The two workshops brought together around 40 junior election professionals from 27 Commonwealth election management bodies, over half of whom were women, to examine difficult but critical issues such as voter registration, boundary delineation, incumbency, the challenges and opportunities of new technology, and working with political parties. Three further regional workshops took place for the Caribbean and Americas in 2014 and Africa and Asia in 2015. Members continue conversations through the Commonwealth Connects online platform.